Busy roads for premature babies?

Washington: Pregnant women who live near freeways or main roads are more likely to give birth prematurely, say researchers.

An international study, led by Queensland University of Technology, has provided a strong link between the two. The study involved 970 mothers and newborn babies from Logan city, south of Brisbane in Australia.

The research has revealed that infants are born earlier when their mothers are living within 400 metres of clusters of freeways and main roads. It shows pregnancy times were reduced by 4.4 per cent, from 40 weeks to 38.2 weeks.

The research team involved in the study suggests thatair pollution may be the major factor leading to the numbers of premature births.

The researchers has studied the connection between asthma and traffic pollution. They focused mainly on indoor air pollution, showing the relationships between indoor air pollutants and respiratory symptoms in children.

Lead researcher Prof Peter Franklin said: "In an ideal world we would use cars less often as traffic is the main source of air pollution in cities and unfortunately this requires a drastic behavioural change in our city residents and there is little evidence that people really are keen to make changes to their driving habits.

"Fortunately cars have become more efficient and less polluting with time but technology will have to keep improving as population (and potential drivers) grow. The issue of traffic pollution should be considered in urban planning but of course there will be competing issues of space and suitable buffers, which is not an easy thing to resolve."

The team plans to undertake a similar cohort study to investigate the effects of indoor and outdoor air pollution on birth outcomes and respiratory symptoms in early life.